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Film Review: 'Noah'

Melissah Yang |
April 8, 2014 | 7:30 p.m. PDT


(Courtesy of Paramount Pictures)
(Courtesy of Paramount Pictures)
Spoiler alert: The world is destroyed in a flood. 

Darren Aronofsky’s fantasy epic “Noah” (2014) reimagines scripture, giving a different take on the familiar tale, but the film leaves you a bewildered castaway, shipwrecked in the director’s overly ambitious mind.

“Noah” takes many liberties with the Old Testament story, which has put Bible thumpers in a tizzy. But it’s not just Christians calling heresy. The film was banned in many Islamic countries — Pakistan, Bahrain, Malaysia and more — due to religious teachings, which prohibit the portrayal of prophets such as Noah.

From Aronofsky’s first draft written more than a decade ago, it’s been hard work for the director to get his version of “Noah” made. The effort is curious, considering that Aronofsky is a "self-described atheist." There’s no direct reference to a higher God in the film, only infrequent mentions of a “Creator.” And a swift run-through of Genesis’ history of the world implies an evolutionary point-of-view.

A true-to-Bible-story, this is not. A work of labor, it is. 

It’s a dog-eat-dog kind of world when the film opens. A young Noah sees his father killed by a ruthless king, a descendant of Cain who plunders the earth with no remorse.

Fast-forward some years and an environmentally conscious adult Noah (Russell Crowe) teaches his two sons “we take only what we need, what we can use.” His family, which includes wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), is vegetarian and presented as the only ones who value the earth they live on.

Through prophetic visions that feel like a bad acid trip, Noah learns the fated flood is coming and begins to build the gigantic ark that will save the world’s animals and his family. He consults his grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), who gives Noah a seed that magically sprouts into a forest that will provide wood for the ark. Noah also enlists the help of the Watchers, fallen angels that have been transformed into mammoth stone golems, which look like unused extras from Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings.”

The ark takes years to make, during which beautiful sequences show animals making the trek toward safe harbor. By the time the ark is finished, Noah’s sons have grown and an adopted daughter, Ila (Emma Watson), begins a romance with the eldest, Shem (Douglas Booth). Noah's second son, Ham (Logas Lerman), is disgruntled when he realizes his father intends for him to spend the rest of his days alone.

With the impending flood looming, everything from snakes to tribal men led by Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) — the same man who killed Noah's father — is looking to get on board. It’s a showdown reminiscent of battle scenes from “300,” but Sparta this ain’t.

The flood comes in different waves. Black water gurgles out of the ground, while elsewhere geysers that would put Old Faithful to shame blast into the sky. A significant portion of the film is dedicated to the family’s turbulent time on board. Questions of morality and ethics plague the consciousness of those who survived the near end of the world.

Crowe plays a shaggier, more despondent Noah rather than a regal prophet à la Charlton Heston as Moses in "The Ten Commandments" (1956). Crowe and Connelly reunite on screen, having previously starred together in “A Beautiful Mind” (2001), but they fall flat as parents of the new world.

Aronofsky, known for his heavy-handed direction, often with an overwhelming intensity, doesn’t let up with “Noah.” His previous works, Academy Award-winning “Black Swan” (2010) and cult classic “Requiem for a Dream” (2000), brought great potency to otherwise eerily quiet moments, whether at a ballet company’s rehearsal or an addict’s home.

But “Noah,” which already has a hefty plot — really, it’s humanity’s original apocalyptic story — is a fantastical feat that tries too hard. The all too familiar tale is almost unrecognizable, lost in belabored visual effects and stagnant dialogue.

Aronofsky creates a film of biblical proportions, sure, but what it all means is an interpretation that apparently only he is privy to.

Reach Editor-at-Large Melissah Yang here. Follow her on Twitter @MelissahYang.



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